A slow death
Democracy in Canada is dying. While countries around the world wage revolution so they can have a democracy as found in Canada, we let ours slip away slowly.
Many issues contribute to this phenomenon, for example, the proroguing of parliament and legislatures across Canada. Two recent examples are Christy Clark, Premier of British Colombia, canceling the fall session of the legislature and opting to campaign instead, and former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty proroguing the Ontario legislature and stepping down in the midst of a gas-plants controversy and an economically weak Ontario receiving equalization payments for the first time in equalization payment history.
Clark’s canceling of this fall’s session flies in the face of Canadian democratic values. The upcoming election should not be the reason to cancel the sitting, but rather be the reason for it. Here the opposition performs its valuable role critiquing the government and its policies, while the government would formulate and defend those policies, both sides representing the people of B.C, and therefore completing their democratic role. Clark doesn’t see it like this.
As ugly as these politics seem, question period and such, they are democracy’s linchpin. They give the opposition the chance to speak and represent the population that voted for them and therefore, when leaders prorogue parliament, they are choosing to stifle the democratic rights of a certain percentage of the electorate.
Premiers that do this forget two critical things: that they are responsible to the legislature, and that they are not just the Premier for those who voted for them, but for the entire province.
But these are just two examples within provinces, so how is democracy in Canada dying as a whole?
Firstly, the tactic of omnibus legislation smothers democracy. Supporters claim it is more efficient, because hey, since they have a “majority” anyway, why don’t they just pass a bunch of bills at once, instead of going through the drawn out, pedantic democratic bill passing process so many times? This is undemocratic because every bill is supposed to be debated, even in a majority situation, because this lets the opposition voice the opinion of Canadians who did not vote for the government. Furthermore, the Conservatives could use this type of bill for political advantage later, saying that another party voted against “this idea,” found in an overloaded omnibus bill. This fallacious argument is reminiscent of Vic Toews’ famous “he can either stand with us or with the child pornographers” rhetoric.
Secondly, our electoral system allows for a government to form a majority with only a plurality of the votes. Of the 61.1 per cent of Canadians that voted in 2011, Harper only won 39.62 per cent of their votes, which means that overall fewer than 39.62 per cent of Canadians elected this government. Yet this Conservative party controls the House of Commons with a majority.
Thus, these signs foretell that our democracy is slowly dying, and due to one critical fact: politicians derive their mandate from the people, and if the people don’t care, if they don’t participate, and if they aren’t vigilant of their governments, then politicians will naturally push the threshold as far as they can.
The fate of Canadian democracy does not lay in the hands of the politicians, but instead the people. If every Canadian demanded that government be more transparent, for example, then they would be. For what the people demand, parties try to cater to, to win votes, but as long as Canadians remain in the chains of apathy, then they allow democracy to suffocate.
Photo courtesy Emily Wright/Arthur Ward